Tides take a plunge

The moon may not be in its seventh house and Jupiter might not align with Mars this week. However, it is the dawning of days of Aquarius in Puget Sound.

Low tides in June and July will be the lowest in the tidal system’s 18-and-a-half year cycle.

Saturday, June 3, west side tides will drop to minus 3.7 feet at 12:19 p.m. On the east side, Saturday’s tides will plummet to minus 4.1 feet at 12:26 p.m.

These record-setting lows happen based on complex celestial arrangement.

Tide cycles depend on the moon’s phase as it revolves around Earth as well as the orbit of planets, Jan Holmes, Washington State University Island County Beach Watcher said.

Holmes is anxious for the low tides to arrive.

“As a biologist, I’m excited,” she said. “But I’m worried about trampling.”

Low tides can attract large crowds, eager to see what the tide brings to light. But human enthusiasm can cause death on the beach.

“It’s sad that many people don’t know how amazingly diverse marine life is here,” Beach Watcher Mary Jo Adams said.

“Most people wouldn’t deliberately harm animals. They just don’t understand what’s hiding in the seaweed and under rocks.”

The summer’s extremely low tides will give people more opportunity to view soft-bodied sea critters usually hidden under water. Creatures such as sea cucumbers and six-rayed sea stars. Urchins and anemones. Perhaps octopus.

In addition to being subjected to more light, heat and wind than normal, these creatures will be exposed to hungry birds. They don’t need added harassment by humans.

By practicing good beach etiquette, people can enjoy low tide without causing death and destruction. Beach etiquette means visiting the beach as if you are visiting another person’s home. It’s not a person’s home but beaches are homes to plenty of life.

“Many people don’t know what plants and animals live out here,” said Adams. She and fellow Beach Watchers Charlie Seablom and Bill Piggot scouted Libbey Beach Tuesday morning. At 9:17 a.m., low tide was minus 1.7 feet. Animals hid under rocks and in tide pools, seeking shelter and moisture. Drifts of beached sea weeds and grasses harbored others. Adams carefully lifted rocks, finding something to exclaim over under each one.

Tube worms, crabs, chitons, snails and a few fish. Several types of crabs scrambled about as did cling fish which have modified fins that act as suction cups on rocks. When the tide goes out, cling fish and sculpin must keep their gills moist. If their rocks are removed, light and heat can evaporate their water supply.

“Look. Shaggy mouse nudibranchs. What a treat to find.” Adams said.

These nudibranchs, or sea slugs, eat anemones which use stinging cells as a defense.

Adams said the slugs pass the stinging cells through their system and then cover themselves with the stingers for their defense.

“I never have a bad day at a Whidbey beach,” Adams said. “I always find something interesting.”

Thursday, June 3, Beach Watchers will be at Double Bluff on South Whidbey to lead tours at 10:30 a.m. Saturday, June 5, from noon to 2 p.m., they will be at Double Bluff and at Rosario Beach on Fidalgo Island in Deception Pass State Park to discuss beach etiquette and lead tours explaining interesting marine life.

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